In one respect, Wyatt Smith finds himself alone in the Okanagan Sun’s defensive backfield.
The 22-year-old RSS product is the only healthy body at training camp who was a starter in the BCFC club’s secondary last season.
With the likes of veterans Daylon Pommier (Concordia), Jesse Warawa (graduated) and Tyler Robson (U of S) having moved on, Smith is ready to take on some added responsibility as the Sun backfield undergoes some significant changes.
“It’s a new role for me, you know Daylon was our guy our leader last year and there was a bunch of returning starters,” said Smith, entering his fourth season with the Sun. “This year we’re quite a bit younger. I know some of the guys having played with them and we have a bunch of new guys, too. We just have to embrace it, I’m excited to step and have a chance to lead by example, I’d like to be a vocal leader, inspire the boys, and as one of the older guys it’s my job to do that.”
While players with starting experience are scarce, head coach Jason Casey isn’t concerned about being able to adequately fill all five starting spots in the secondary.
Among returning veterans expected to push for playing time are J.R. Richardson, Robbie Yochim, Steven McFadyen, Davend Reddy, Blake Butler and D.J. Weber. Rookies Wes Geisler (Boucherie), Brennan Van Nistelrooy (Lethbridge), Jeremy Sroka (Van College), Daniel Ruddy (Calgary) and Beau Barthel (Lethbridge) add youth and energy to the mix.
“Technically, there are going to be new names at these positions, but by no means do we feel this year is going to be a step back,” said Casey. “You never want to lose guys like Pommier, Warawa, or Robson, they were leaders talent-wise and vocally. But we expect the guys we have will fill those boots and maybe even surpass them, so we can play deep into November. In the end, we’re going to put the best five athletes on the field, regardless of whether they’re corners, halfs or safeties.”
Other than Smith, Matt Harris is the only Sun player with starting experience in the secondary.
Harris is awaiting surgery to repair a damaged miniscus in his left knee and hopes to be back on the field within six weeks. “I’m just paying attention, trying to keep my head in the game and stay positive,” said Harris, 21. “I’m trying to share what I’ve learned from older guys in the past and pass that down to the younger guys.
“I also need to make sure I’m ready when my knee heals up so I can get back in there as soon as possible and help the team.”
Under coach Casey, the prevailing theme at this year’s training camp is that very few jobs are etched in stone.
Wyatt Smith welcomes the healthy competition and, despite his experience, is taking nothing for granted in his bid for a starting role.
“If you go into feeling like ‘I’m the guy, I got this job,’ then you’re going in with the wrong attitude,” said Smith who can play both corner and half. “You know there are guys underneath you ready to grab your spot. You’ve got to earn it, it pushes you to compete and it’s a good situation for the football team.”
And it’s precisely the answer Casey wants to hear from veterans like Smith who will be leaned on for both leadership and on-field production.
“What Wyatt’s seen in the games, he can bring to these 17,18 and 19-year-olds,” added Casey. “The fact he did play more than one position, not just a corner, not just a half so he does know the that’s required to be a DB. He’s going to be a key guy for us.”
The 2011 version of training camp has been as physical as many players can remember. No fewer than 15 Sun players were unable to take part in Sunday’s workouts at the Parkinson fields due to injuries, and assorted bumps and bruises.
“We are young across the board on average, so a lot of these young guys aren’t use to getting hit by men,” said Casey. “They’re not quite used to the intensity and physicality, so bumps and bruises will happen. These guys are fighting hard for position, so it’s something you’re going to see.”
The Sun open the BCFC regular season July 31 in Kamloops.